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CPT publishes report on torture in Poland

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published a report on its visit to Poland in 2017. The document reveals many irregularities in the examined detention facilities.

CPT visited police stations, Border Guard establishments, prisons, young offender institutions, psychiatric institutions and the National Centre for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviours in Gostynin. CPT delegation also met with lawyers of the HFHR.

Abuse of violence

“The conclusions of the Committee’s visitation coincide with the observations of non-governmental organizations, including the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights”, says Marcin Szwed, HFHR lawyer. According to the report, the CPT received many reports of abuse of force (or sometimes outright violence) on the part of police officers. The CPT noted based on its findings that persons who are arrested or transferred to the police custody were exposed to a serious risk of being maltreated.

There is still no systemic solution that would protect detainees from such irregularities. The CPT emphasised in particular that detainees’ access to a lawyer was illusory and found that detainees generally were not informed of their rights.

CPT investigates death of Igor Stachowiak

The CPT has also taken an interest in the case of Igor Stachowiak who died at a police station in Wrocław in 2016. Referring to that tragic case, the CPT recommended reiterating to all police officers instructions regarding the proper use of electric discharge weapons. As the Committee pointed out, electric discharge weapons may only be used when there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury; such weapons may not be used for the sole purpose of securing a detainee’s compliance with an order. Recourse to such weapons should only be authorised when other less coercive methods have failed. The Committee also requested the Polish authorities to provide it with a copy of Igor Stachowiak’s case file as well as information on disciplinary and criminal penalties imposed on the officers responsible for his safety.

Conditions in immigration centres

In the report’s section devoted to guarded immigration centres, the CPT noted, e.g., cases of violence between detained foreign nationals, the absence of pre-placement medical examinations and the practice of submitting the detainees to medical exams in the presence of Border Guard officers. Another important problem is the fact that foreigners are often not informed about decisions concerning their detention and available legal remedies that may be taken to challenge such decisions.

Cell space

The CPT also drew attention to the inadequacies in the functioning of prisons. In this respect, the Committee observed that the Polish standard of prison living space (3 sqm per an inmate) was too low. Furthermore, newly admitted inmates do not have to undergo a comprehensive medical examination immediately after their arrival at the facility. There is also a need for proper procedures for reporting and recording prisoners’ injuries. The CPT also concluded that Poland applies extensively restrictive regulations regarding the contact privileges of persons detained on remand.

Juvenile detention centres haunted by “adult” problems

Discussing the young offender institutions, the CPT noted, among other things, cases of violence between inmates and the absence of proper medical examinations. Moreover, irregularities were uncovered in respect of the misuse of coercive measures. Juvenile inmates’ contact privileges were considered inadequate.

Psychiatric hospitals

At the same time, the CPT pointed out to several deficiencies in the operation of psychiatric institutions, including the alarmingly frequent use of coercive measures against juvenile patients. Also, the provisions of the Mental Health Protection Act do not fully meet international standards: for example, there is no mechanism for a periodic judicial review of mental health committal orders or extensions of periods of involuntary hospitalisation. The CPT also commented on the operations of the National Centre for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviours in Gostynin, noting the absence of a general concept of therapy at the establishment as well as overcrowding.

“We hope that the recommendations made by the Committee will contribute to improving standards of treatment of people deprived of their liberty. Many of the suggested changes are in line with earlier proposals of non-governmental organisations and the Commissioner for Human Rights”, says Katarzyna Wiśniewska, a lawyer working for the HFHR.

To view the CPT report, use this link.

A report for the CPT drafted the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights can be read here. In connection with the July visit of the CPT’s United Nations counterpart, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the Foundation also prepared an updated version of this document, supplementing it with descriptions of cases from 2017 and 2018. The report may be accessed here.

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